Last weekend, I was supposed to do a trail half marathon. I had signed up for a race, which ended up being confusingly canceled (apparently, I didn't get the memo). I showed up at Sanborn County Park last weekend for the nonexistent "Sanborn Trail Challenge". I was the first one at the park and surprised a family of deer grazing at the entrance. It had been raining hard. The clay/sand dirt trails, protected from the redwoods, remained dry enough to provide packed traction, perfect for running. I was early to hit the trails at 8:30 am and the sun was just starting to soak up November's early morning chill. As I started running uphill, I tucked my gloves and headband away and rolled down my arm warmers. I found a slow but strong jog as I began the 3 mile trek uphill around the switchbacks. The kind of switchbacks where you can look down for a mile and see where you've been and look up and see where you are going to be for the next mile. Every mile takes forever. My calves burned as I jogged/slogged uphill. I refused to walk. I've been training on hilly trails for several months now. At some point, I found a slow jog I could maintain. I enjoy the momentum it gives me. The hills are more fun now.
I hopped over a salamander and stopped to scoop it up. It's clammy red skin was smooth and damp. He looked up at me lazily and blinked. I carefully set him down off the side of the trail, where he would be safe from blind feet and continued up the path. Up a little further, I spotted a large banana slug, stretched across the path. At some point, I reached the Skyline Trail, near the summit, and the trail evened out. I recognized where I was. I had mountain biked here a few times before over the summer. This is where I fell into poison oak and suffered a persistent, itchy rash for the rest of the summer. This is where I had wished I was running instead of negotiating a mountain bike on a treacherous, narrow trail with creeks and roots. I had gotten my wish.
I visited Summit Rock, where the peregrine falcons nest. A shooting range echoed nearby with a cacophony of pop-pop-pops. This was the turn-around point. I headed back and began picking up the pace as the trail descended. I love downhill running. I had been waiting 6 miles for this. As I curved around the Summit Loop Trail, I prepared myself for the final climb back up to Skyline Trail. It was at this point, I headed off-trail. I chose the lesser-traveled trail and climbed uphill...in the wrong direction. It took me about a mile before I lost the trail completely. I circled nervously a few times. Then, made the hard decision to go back the way I'd come until I found the right trail. After my 1-2 mile off-trail sidetrack, I found the correct trail and finally began the final ascent back to Skyline (again).
Once I reached Skyline, my pace picked up. The temps were cool so luckily, I didn't need much hydration. This was fortunate because I hadn't brought a ton of fluid (I thought there'd be aid stations!). I felt surprisingly good, despite my extra run. Until I reached the switchbacks coming down. My right IT band seized up. It wasn't a gradual pain but a sudden stabbing pain that brought my gait to a hobbling walk. Downhill. I had to clutch branches and grab rocks to slow to an old-woman limp, staggering down the switchbacks. I rubbed my hip and knee to no avail. Somehow, I made it the 3 miles downhill. The pain eased to a dull ache, enough that I could find a comfortable walk/jog. I was frustrated and grateful for the arm warmers, gloves, and headband as my heart rate slowed. Oddly, the final mile back to the car was much easier to run since it was flat/uphill.
I took an ice bath after my half marathon (plus) run. And then purchased a foam roller and have been rolling out my IT bands. Ouch. However, the good news is that I've been running without any problems since my unofficial half marathon. Overall, I am really excited about having "raced" my first trail half marathon in (7?) years. And I already signed up for the next real half marathon--Woodside Ramble on December 16th.